Manvydas Džiaugys/ Modern Lithuania and Utopian Thinking

It seems barely credible that at the beginning of the 20th century it was possible to create an independent state of Lithuania, and after a short fragment of freedom, to lose it and restore it after a half-century occupation. Political scientists used the term “geopolitical miracle” to label the independence of the Baltic States, which was regained from the Soviet Union through peaceful means. The vision of an independent nation-state remained in the Lithuanian minds throughout the difficult decades of occupation. However, for some people who were born and grew up in the Soviet Union, the idea of ​​a free state might have seemed to be a simple utopia.
“Geopolitical miracle” to label the independence of the Baltic States, which was regained from the Soviet Union through peaceful means
We usually come across such words as ‘utopia’, ‘eutopia’, or ‘dystopia’ in literary contexts. The term was constructed and introduced by Sir Thomas More Utopia in his well-known novel “Utopia”, which has become not only a canon of a unique literary genre but has also created a unique form of political criticism. In this text, the term is used to refer to a human effort to make the world around us a little better than we found it. The Lithuanian utopia is a time and place where we can feel safe by nurturing our own political project without worrying that a tsunami or a hostile imperial power will sweep us off the ground.
for some people who were born and grew up in the Soviet Union, the idea of ​​a free state might have seemed to be a simple utopia
On the one hand, there wasn’t much real utopian thinking in the history of Lithuanian political thought; we were always quite clear, we just kept treasuring what we thought was the most precious to us. On the other hand, mention should be made of the “full democracy” reflections developed by such thinkers as Stasys Šalkauskis or Antanas Maceina. [1] Although this idea was distinguished by its innovative insight into the necessity of establishing sustainable foundations for the democratic organization of the state, it did not awaken Lithuanian consciousness or encourage people to dream. In the interwar period, in the context of tense relations with the neighbor in the south, and after regaining the Klaipeda region with the seaport in 1923, Lithuania was given the opportunity to develop the vision of a maritime state and to establish ties with its neighbors in the north. Dr. Jonas Šliūpas, a member of the organization “Aušra”, was one of the first 19th century politicians in Lithuania who urged to unite with Baltic neighbors and jointly create a Lithuanian-Latvian state. Similar “Nordic” views were also declared by the signatory of the Lithuanian Independence Act Mykolas Biržiška and diplomat Oskaras Milašius. Nowadays, in his presidential campaign, Arydas Juozaitis has been consistently declaring the necessity of building a sustainable relationship with Latvia. [2] Paradoxically, this is perhaps the only manifestation of a more original strategic thinking in public political debate. However, retrospectively, geographer Kazys Pakštas (1893-1960) remains one of the most prominent designers of Lithuanian geopolitical strategies. “If we can characterize Switzerland as a high mountain country and Finland as a country of numerous lakes, then Lithuania must be called a country with a high risk of living.” [4] That’s how Pakštas briefly described the country’s geopolitical situation. Perfectly aware of the fragility and geopolitical tensions of the Lithuanian world, he was probably the only one who courageously sought and offered alternatives. In his vision, Lithuania is an integral part of the Nordic Baltic region, where the Baltic States, in cooperation with the Scandinavian countries, form a unified structure – the Baltoscandian Federation. {5}
“If we can characterize Switzerland as a high mountain country and Finland as a country of numerous lakes, then Lithuania must be called a country with a high risk of living.”
The most pronounced opposition to the Nordic stance is the worldview of the imperial Lithuania, the utopian expression of which is well reflected in the work of the ethnologist Gintaras Beresnevičius “The Making of an Empire” (2003). “Fate or history kept casting us from one state to another, but this has not changed the basics – we are a nation formed by the Empire leaders, and for us Crimea, Ukrainian steppes, Kiev, Naugardas and Smolensk, the Black Sea and Courland are areas which intertwine with our thoughts, ideological stereotypes and real-life models.” {6} Beresnevičius’s vision, lively and engaging, makes us join his mythical poetic future in an attempt to reassess our Lithuanian identity.
“Fate or history kept casting us from one state to another, but this has not changed the basics – we are a nation formed by the Empire leaders<…>”
Unlike Pakštas, who based his vision on geography and geopolitics, Beresnevičius provokes us by presenting one of the most deeply conceived projects of political imagination – the utopia of the imperial dimension of Lithuania. Although both visions are radically different, one feature unites both thinkers, which is the ability to boldly create and offer future scenarios that go beyond our usual worldview frames. So which utopian vision is livelier today? Imagery of imperial thinking such as the Palace of the Rulers, an active role in the EU Eastern Partnership Program and support for Ukraine? Or is it the Nordic vision, with the Norwegian liquefied gas terminal, an electricity connection with Sweden and participation in the North-Baltic 8-member political club (NB 8)? The reality may be somewhere in the middle. Somewhere between Beresnevičius and Pakštas.
So which utopian vision is livelier today?
What if not the manifestation of a creative and vibrant society is the ability to generate utopian public debate that awakens imagination? Finally, one of the most interesting political provocations in Lithuanian literature that needs to be mentioned here is the novel “Amber State” (2005) by political scientist Saulius Spurga. Lithuania here appears as a country of innovation and breakthrough that dictates fashion trends in technology to the whole world. After the restoration of the GDL, the political union withdraws from the European Union and becomes the 51st state of the US. Although this book is a dystopian detective rather than a vision of the future, it responds to the essential function of utopian thinking – it invites us to imagine the future and decide what we would like to be.

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